23 April 2018
The Misfit Toy
In Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a twisted criminal known only as “The Misfit” captures a family of four and a grandmother that he runs into during his escape. As he proceeds to execute each family member, he breaks down the grandmother’s weak moral code.
Why does O’Connor use such a violent character? O’Connor uses The Misfit’s twisted but unbreakable moral code to expose the grandmother’s moral weakness and hypocrisy.One of the first instances we see of the Grandmother’s moral weakness is when she refrains from admitting fault for giving false information about the location of a plantation house.
As the text states: “The horrible thought she had had before the accident was that the house she had remembered so vividly was not in Georgia but in Tennessee.” After this quote the grandmother says nothing about how she was wrong, but instead, after her false information and her crazy cat causing a car crash, she curls up under the dashboard and hopes that she is hurt so that she can avoid conflict with her son.
Clearly here she is showing cowardice and a refusal of self introspection. The grandmother does not want to admit that she is wrong, and in fact even hopes she is injured so she will receive pity from her family.After the car crashes, the stranded family is met by three unknown men. The grandmother eventually notices that the group of men is led by the notorious criminal, the Misfit.
The grandmother, out of fear begins to call the Misfit “a good man,” after he says he would hate to shoot a lady, and praises his parents, showing her moral weakness as she calls a wanted criminal “good.” “‘You wouldn’t shoot a lady, would you?…I know you’re a good man…I know you must come from nice people…you shouldn’t call yourself the misfit because I know you’re a good man at heart.”
In this quote, the grandmother is siding with an evil man out of fear. Before this situation the grandmother says: “I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.” In a difficult situation, the grandmother is seen breaking away from her moral ideals and siding with whatever is convenient to protect herself essentially.
This then would show the Grandmother’s moral shortcomings, if she is willing to twist her beliefs or throw them out altogether just to get out of a bad situation.Unlike the grandmother who seems to be allergic to introspection, the Misfit finds personal definition by what he has done wrong.
As the Misfit says, “‘Nome, I ain’t a good man…but I ain’t the worst in the world neither…I found out the crime don’t matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car…I call myself the Misfit, because I can’t make what all I done wrong fit with all I gone through in punishment.'”
The Misfit is saying that he knows he is not the best man in the world, but he is not the worst either. Therefore, even though he is a bad man, he is not averse to goodness; you can see this in his polite gesture to the Grandmother in which he apologizes for being in inappropriate attire: “I’m sorry I don’t have on a shirt before you ladies…” He then goes on in the quote to define himself by the seemingly unjust punishment he received for something he does not remember doing and because of that, he goes on to commit crimes that do deserve punishment.
Another instance in which the Misfit’s unbreakable moral code shows the weakness of the Grandmother is when he recollects why he was put in prison in which he states: “I never was a bad boy that I remember of…but somewhere along the line I done something wrong and got sent to the penitentiary…I forgot what I done, lady.
I set there…trying to remember what it was I done and I ain’t recalled it to this day.” He does not remember why he was put in prison, and later blatantly denies that he killed his father, recollecting perfectly that his father died in 1919 from the flu and his grave is at Hopewell Baptist churchyard.
The Grandmother then tries to tell the Misfit that maybe the state made a mistake, but the Misfit will not have it, “Nome…They had the papers on me.” The Misfit does not question why he was put in prison, nor does he hold a grudge against it because he knows he did something, after all, “They had the papers,” on him.
This kind of moral strength, to be able to accept being put in prison even though he forgot what he did is a complete foil to the Grandmother whose weakness is shown in her sympathizing for the Misfit, trying to say that the Misfit was falsely imprisoned even though in the beginning of the story she saw him as an escaped convict.By the end, it becomes apparent that the Grandmother is morally weak. She tries time and time again to get on the Misfit’s good side to stay alive instead of trying to save her family.
The Misfit operates under his self-proclaimed moral code of “meanness” that he never breaks away from throughout the story, killing the entire family two by two. As the Misfit says: “If [Jesus] did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do now but throw away everything and follow him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best you can – by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him.
No pleasure but meanness.” The Grandmother then says, “Maybe he didn’t raise the dead.” Clearly here, the Misfit has gotten to the Grandmother to the point that she is willing to give up her faith just to save her own life.The Misfit then says that neither of them knows if Jesus did or did not raise the dead but “…if I had been there I would of known and I wouldn’t be like I am now.” O’Connor then describes him as if he was ready to break down crying.
It is clear that the Misfit wants to be sure of the truth, that he is not happy to be on the path that he is on, but he is on it, and he does not plan to go against the beliefs that he holds. This shows extreme moral strength on the Misfit’s part. He does not enjoy what he is or what he believes, but he knows who he is and he believes what he believes is true even though he does not like it. This is in stark contrast with the Grandmother who believes whatever is convenient for her.
It then becomes clear here that the Misfit is a foil to the Grandmother; he sticks by a moral code that causes him suffering and brings legal trouble to him, while the Grandmother floats around and sticks to certain moral attributes that will help her avoid conflict in the short-term.To further the claim that the Grandmother is weak, the Misfit says at the end of the story that the Grandmother would have been a good woman if someone was there to “shoot her every minute of her life.”
Here, the Misfit is saying that the Grandmother’s entire belief system changed when a gun was held up to her. She was morally weak and the world she lived in allowed her to be so. If the Grandmother had to deal with true hardship in her life, maybe she would have been morally strong.
Finally, when Bobby Lee, one of the Misfit’s partners in crime declares that shooting at someone their whole life would be, “Some fun!” The Misfit’s response is that, “It’s no real pleasure in life.” The Misfit sticks to his moral code to the very end. It’s not fun to shoot at people, it’s not fun to be shot, the world is not fun, and according to the Misfit, there is no fun, there is “no real pleasure in life.
“Some might say the Grandmother shows greater moral strength than the Misfit by humanizing him after all he does by calling him, “…one of my own children!” While it may be true she shows almost Christly love to an evil man, it does not necessarily show her moral strength, and in fact, the opposite may be the case.
The grandmother in the beginning of the story sees the Misfit as a vicious criminal on the loose. However, now when she sees vulnerability in the Misfit, she tries to exploit it and show acceptance and love to one that only knows “meanness.” The Grandmother is not showing moral strength, but changing her moral beliefs and ideals once again to save herself, to no avail, as the Misfit quickly jumps back and shoots her three times before she can exploit his moment of weakness.
Therefore, in conclusion, the Misfit’s character serves as a foil to the grandmother to pull away the veil of faux holiness that she lives with and expose her hypocrisy and corruption. Although the Misfit is tortured by his moral code, he follows it anyway because he believes it is true, unlike the Grandmother who agrees with everything he says and tries to pander to his ideas, completely throwing her previous moral code out the window.?
O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Faber ; Faber, 2016.